Archive for February, 2010

Another bill on horse racing arrives

The push to bring pari-mutuel betting on horses to Georgia has lead to the introduction of additional legislation in the state House.

Rep. Harry Geisinger, a Republican from Roswell, is introducing House Bill 1168, a measure that would create the Georgia Racing Commission and establish how pari-mutuel betting in Georgia would be regulated.

Last month, Geisinger introduced HB 1177, a constitutional amendment to let voters decide whether they want horse racing and pari-mutuel betting  in their communities.

Geisinger, chair of the House Equine Industry Study Committee, is promoting horse racing as a jobs-creator.

He said the new legislation will allow Georgia to have one of the most benevolent horse racing systems in the country.

If the constitutional maendment were approved, a nine-member Georgia Horse Racing Commission would ensure that all pari-mutuel wagering is conducted in accordance with Georgia law at licensed horse racetracks and satellite facilities, he said.

Horse …

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Senate creates economic development council

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill Tuesday afternoon that would create an economic development council of state lawmakers to evaluate all state-funded activities that support Georgia’s economic development strategy.
“This is an opportunity for us to formally evaluate all of the programs that are funded anywhere in the budget in the name of economic development,” said Sen. Chip Pearson (R-Dawsonville) chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee. “As stewards of taxpayer dollars, it’s our responsibility to ensure that money used for economic development is utilized effectively to promote job creation and growth.”

The bill, SB 374, passed 50-0.

Pearson said the council would be made up of both Senate and House members and will review current goals, tax exemptions and credits, as well as the Department of Economic Development’s activities and expenditures.
Currently, economic development initiatives are scattered throughout the budget and across agencies.

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Tax break proposed for police

Full- and part-time public safety officers could see their salaries exempt from state income tax under legislation proposed in the state House by Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta). “House Bill 1180 is just a way that we can reward those who are so valuable to our safety and security,” Franklin said.

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Senate panel makes minor changes to state budget

Senate budget writers largely agreed with an amended 2010 state budget that passed the House last week, but made several changes that will require negotiations nonetheless.

The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a $17.4 billion budget for the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

Among their changes, senators propose adding $1.8 million back into the Department of Revenue’s budget to allow the agency to employ a second and third shift of temporary workers to process income tax returns.

Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) also said the Senate version includes at least $600,000 in savings by moving the state from embossed to flat license plates that are produced digitally.

Department of Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham, whose agency oversees license plate production and sales, said it would save the state time and money.

Hill said the other major change in Senate budget deals with payments to private hospitals who participate in a …

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Budgets, audits could be Internet bound

Most local governments would have their budgets and audits posted on the Internet under legislation unanimously approved by the Georgia House on Tuesday. The obligation would apply to cities and counties with budgets of more than $1 million, said Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta), the bill’s sponsor. The Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia would post the budgets and audits on line. The cities and counties already are required to produce the budgets and audits. The goal, Lindsey said, is to allow citizens to have easy access to records on how their government is spending their money. It also will allow people with Internet access to compare the spending of their city or county to that of other governments, he said. The bill now goes to the state Senate for consdieration.

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Obama to announce Georgia nuke loan guarantees today

President Barack Obama today will announce the loan guarantees for the construction and operation of two new nuclear reactors in Georgia, the first new nuclear power plant to break ground in the United States for nearly three decades.

An administration official said late Monday that the loan guarantees will apply to work at the Southern Co. plant in Burke, where Georgia Power is planning the new reactors at its Plant Vogtle facility.Southern Co. estimates the project will create 3,000 onsite construction jobs and about 850 permanent positions.

The new reactors would be completed by 2017 at an estimated cost of $14 billion. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Wall Street Journal reported last June that Southern was one of four companies in line to split $18.5 billion in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power facilities.

The Associated Press first reported the Obama administration’s intentions last week.

An Obama official, however, confirmed the news to the AJC on …

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State Ethics to probe Proctor fine

By Cameron McWhirter

The State Ethics Commission launched an investigation Monday into whether a recently resigned commission member should finally pay a $1,000 fine levied against him in 2004.

Robert Proctor was appointed to the commission – which handles all ethics complaints for state government and elections — in January by  Rep. Mark Burkhalter (R-Johns Creek) during Burkhalter’s brief tenure as speaker. Proctor resigned Feb. 12, citing medical problems. He had just served one month on the panel and had never attended a commission meeting.

On Feb. 1, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Proctor never paid a $1,000 fine levied by the Ethics Commission in 2004 for failing to register as a lobbyist. Proctor said the order against him was never properly served notice of the fine, though he attended a hearing regarding the matter and met with an investigator. He argued since he had not been served with a certified letter, he did …

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Perdue signs banking bill

In the first bill this session to get Gov. Sonny Perdue’s signature, HB 926 became law and will help locally chartered banks.

The bill, which passed the Senate Thursday afternoon by a 52-0 vote and was signed by Perdue at 3:30 p.m., will allow law banks to be able to renew loans with existing customers even if financial strain has made that loan above the normal lending limit. However, the law does not require banks to renew the loans.

“This legislation will increase stability in Georgia banking,” Perdue said. “This is a bill that strengthens already existing lender-borrower relationships and allows loans in good standing to be renewed, which helps both the bank and the borrower.”

Current state law restricts banks from lending more than 15 percent of their capital to any one borrower. According to supporters of the bill, the current law has had the unintended consequence of disallowing banks to renew loans, even for trusted customers. The bill gives more flexibility …

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MARTA changes “yellow” line to “gold”

Moving to tamp a controversy that has reached the national news, MARTA CEO Beverly Scott said Thursday afternoon that the transit agency would change the name of its “yellow” train line, which goes to Doraville, home to a large Asian-American community.

Scott said she still intended to meet with Asian-American group leaders as scheduled, but that there was no point in delaying the decision. She said MARTA had never intended to offend anyone with the re-naming, which went into effect Oct. 1, along with other color names for the rest of the system, and that it was making the change out of “an abundance of caring for this community.”

A MARTA employee who dealt with diversity issues warned the agency a month before the change that it could offend some in the Asian-American community. The change comes two days after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the advocacy groups’ concern over the issue. That story prompted nationwide interest including from the Web site Gawker.

Scott …

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Bill targets Oxendine’s insurance industry contributions

State Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton) on Thursday introduced legislation that makes it illegal for the state insurance commissioner to accept campaign contributions from executives of companies regulated by his office.

The bill is in response to months’ of reporting by the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media outlets that current Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine has collected more than $2.6 million from employees and owners of insurance and small-businesses that Oxendine regulates.

Scott said state law already prohibits officials from taking money from companies they regulate, but his measure would expand that ban to certain employees of those companies. It was introduced in the House on Thursday and sent to the Governmental Affairs Committee, which Scott chaired until this session. He resigned the chairmanship to focus on his race for governor.

“Yet, the existing law has not proven sufficient to prohibit this type of conduct in some cases, most notably by our …

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